When Angela B. Freeman found her second career as a patent attorney at Barnes & Thornburg, she also found Women & Hi Tech. In her first career as a molecular biologist, she worked for over a decade at Eli Lilly studying how differences in the human genome affect a person’s reaction to medicine. “It showed me that on a genetic level, we are all different, but we are much more similar.” In 2008 during the economic crisis, Freeman started thinking about her Plan B. “I realized that I didn’t have a backup plan if I got laid off, but I was unsure what would make me happy.” The answer came in the form of a guest speaker at Lilly who was both a medical doctor and a lawyer. “The questions of privacy, intellectual property, and ownership of the genetic data we were generating as scientists had never crossed my mind. But the second it did, I was fascinated.”
Like any good scientist, Freeman spent a year doing research on law school before she enrolled. She also kept her full-time job at Lilly, with her husband, sons, and mentors cheering her on. “I have had many great mentors in my career, and 90% of them have been Caucasian males because that is what STEM leadership has looked like historically. However, my supervisor at that time, an openly lesbian Latina M.D. and Ph.D. scientist, convinced me that I was a great scientist, but would be an even better lawyer.”
Although her professional experiences have mostly been positive, Freeman has experienced setbacks that highlight the great potential to create a more equal and inclusive workplace environment in STEM. As a diversity advocate, this outstanding need inspired her to get involved with Women & Hi Tech. “Deborah Pollack-Milgate told me there was an open position on the board for a Networking Director and I knew that was a great fit for me. I spent the last four years working to make our networking events bigger, better, and more inclusive to all.”
Freeman currently serves as the President-Elect and will assume the role of President in July 2019. “To vote me in as the first African-American President of Women & Hi Tech in the year of our 20th anniversary reflects the board’s commitment to advancing diversity in STEM. We are continuing to grow as an organization that elevates all women equally; I am very proud of that” Freeman said.
“One of the biggest changes I have seen in STEM over the last 20 years is that less time is required to convince others that my road in STEM, as a diverse woman, has had challenges that Caucasian women often do not encounter, including both unconscious bias and outright discrimination. These barriers to women, particularly women of color and other diverse women, have not disappeared. So, having a platform to exemplify a diverse woman who is successful in STEM in spite of those challenges is a major victory.”
Women of color receive less than 5% of bachelor’s degrees across all STEM fields. However, Freeman believes Women & Hi Tech will help increase those statistics in Indiana. “To be it, you must see it,” exclaimed Freeman, who appreciates that diverse girls must be exposed to professional women that look like them. “Programs like Passport to Hi Tech and Ignite Your Superpower! are key for outreach to more diverse girls,” said Freeman. “Women & Hi Tech will continue to seek community partners to support our outreach to diverse and rural girls from kindergarten through college and well into their professional careers.”
“In the next 20 years, I hope to see the Indianapolis community embrace Women & Hi Tech the same way we have embraced this community,” Freeman said. “We are locally founded, and locally focused on advancing and encouraging women in STEM to remain here, although I don’t believe our history is recognized by the local community as such. That is one of the many reasons I am so grateful and excited to have this opportunity. I know I will not be the only diverse woman to lead Women & Hi Tech in the future, but I am honored to be the first, and I take that responsibility very seriously. As such, I plan to spend the rest of my tenure ensuring that Women & Hi Tech is positioned to expose the next generation of girls in Indiana, particularly diverse girls and women, to all the possibilities available to them in the world of STEM. If I can do that, then I believe my leadership of this organization has been effective.”
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